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February 28, 2005

Songs, Scores, and Suchow

I've had a bit on my plate currently, which is why little more than "My Favorite Songs" has been updated on "Not a Blog." My tribute to movie soundtracks as part of "Film Music February" is just about at an end. On the heels of last night's Oscar Awards, which rewarded the film score to "Finding Neverland," I enjoyed reading a piece by Stephen Williams in yesterday's Newsday: "Close Your Eyes and See: The Greatest Film Music is Among the Best Ever Composed." (Thanks to my friend Lou for pointing that piece out.) It's a real treat for film score buffs.

Meanwhile, earlier today, I got a nice note from bassist Rick Suchow, who wrote the music and lyrics to one of my all-time favorite R&B dance tracks (previously profiled here): "Are You For Real?" (I actually noticed a bit of a problem with the numbering of my "Songs of the Day" and just corrected it! So all is well now, thanks in part to Rick's timely message.)

Back in the day, when I was doing mobile DJ work, I played to packed dance floors my vinyl version of that ever-hummable "Are You For Real?," featuring the song stylings of vocalist Camille Filfiley with Deodato. I still love that track, and couldn't resist leaving a message on Rick's guestlist. Make sure to check out Rick's audio clips. They're terrific. Another one of them might be showing up on my favorite song list very soon.

Anyway, I'm a bit behind in my tasks... but the Song never ends in Sciabarra's house!

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #187

Song of the Day: King Kong ("The Adventure Begins") [audio clip at that link], composed by Max Steiner, captures the thunderous spectacle that was the "Eighth Wonder of the World" in this 1933 film version of the "Beauty and the Beast" tale. This remains one of the greatest film score achievements in cinema history. And so we close this year's "Film Music February."

February 27, 2005

Song of the Day #186

Song of the Day: Marnie ("Prelude") [audio clip at that link], composed by Bernard Herrmann, is the dark and lush theme from the 1964 Hitchcock film, starring Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren.

February 26, 2005

Song of the Day #185

Song of the Day: Madame Bovary ("Waltz") [audio clip at that link], music by Miklos Rozsa, was composed for the Vincente Minnelli-directed 1949 film version of the Gustave Flaubert novel, starring Jennifer Jones. This swirling, romantic piece was inspired by Flaubert's descriptions of the waltz, which Minnelli captures perfectly in this key scene.

February 25, 2005

Song of the Day #184

Song of the Day: Providence ("Valse Crepusculaire"), music by Miklos Rozsa, was dubbed the "anti-Ben-Hur" by the composer because "it had absolutely nothing of the spectacular about it." In fact, it is one of the most intimate and touching scores in the Rozsa corpus, for the 1977 film, starring John Gielgud, Dirk Bogarde, and Ellen Burstyn. I truly love a solo piano version of this particular composition by Sara Davis Buechner, as well as a solo guitar version by Gregg Nestor. Listen to an audio clip from Arthouse Cafe, Vol. 2.

February 24, 2005

Song of the Day #183

Song of the Day: Spellbound ("Concerto"), music by Miklos Rozsa, is among the composer's finest film noir contributions, written for the 1945 Hitchcock film, starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, and featuring Salvador Dali sets for its famous dream sequence. Rozsa's original theme is stated in the film by the theremin; an alternative audio clip is from the piano concerto.

February 23, 2005

A Question About Wal-Mart

In reply to a SOLO HQ article written by Andrew Bissell ("Wal-Mart: A Big Business With a Backbone"), I raise a question here about Wal-Mart's use of government subsidies.

Readers may comment at SOLO HQ.

Song of the Day #182

Song of the Day: Jaws ("Main Title/First Attack") [audio clip at that link], music by John Williams, did for beaches what Herrmann did for showers: giving people who use them a recognizable theme for ominous possibilities. It's part of the unforgettable Oscar-winning score to the unforgettable Steven Spielberg-directed 1975 film.

February 22, 2005

Islam and Democracy

I just wanted to recommend a new article by David Glenn, "Who Owns Islamic Law?," which has been published in the February 25th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

It asks a key question about the relationship between democracy, Islam, and secularism: "Will Iraq's political forces manage to find a consensus about what role, exactly, Islam should play in the public sphere?"

While some insist on "authentically Islamic" enforcement of "Shariah" or "traditional religious law—in all spheres of life, from banking to inheritance to the performing arts," others argue "that lines must be drawn between mosque and state—even if those lines do not look exactly like Western secular pluralism." One professor of political science, M.A. Muqtedar Khan, insists: "'There will be no Islamic democracy unless jurists permit the democratization of interpretation.' ... In Mr. Khan's view, political elites in the Muslim world have for centuries restricted the development of democracy and political accountability by hiding behind religious principles that they proclaim to be fixed in stone." Khan is concerned "that basing government around consultation and shura ... could lead to majoritarian tyranny. 'Even if shura is transformed into an instrument of participatory representation,' he wrote, 'it must itself be limited by a scheme of private and individual rights that serve an overriding moral goal such as justice'."

Some others have observed, however,

that "secularism" has been so thoroughly discredited in the Muslim world by Kemal Atatürk's ruthlessly anticlerical regime in Turkey and by the later secular-authoritarian governments in Algeria, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Only in Iran, which has suffered under a clerical tyranny for decades, do reformers now commonly talk about secular pluralism.

The fundamental challenge for would-be democracy-builders in Iraq and elsewhere is the contested relationship between Islam and the public sphere ... Where religious authorities and institutions once had breathing room from the state and their own spheres of influence, ... colonial regimes brought everything under the heel of the government. (And their postcolonial successors have been happy to do likewise.) ...

This, then, is the dilemma for reformers today. Centrist Islamists and liberal reformers would like to develop a model in which Muslim institutions are independent from the government and vigorously inform public governance, but do not swallow all of society in a totalitarian project like the Taliban's. ...

Mr. Khan, meanwhile, insists that the most urgent danger of authoritarianism lies in entrusting Islamic thought and interpretation to an elite corps of scholars and jurists. ...

Mr. Khan acknowledges that his is very much a minority view. He is nonetheless excited about the current intellectual climate. "Two weeks ago I was at the Stanley Foundation and one-third of my audience was Muslims," he says. "Afterward we spent the whole night having a Muslim-Muslim dialogue. We disagreed about everything. But we did come to consensus on one point—and that is that the discussions are getting more sophisticated. There is no doubt about it."

I recommend the article to your attention.

Cross-posted to L&P, where readers may comment.

Song of the Day #181

Song of the Day: Psycho ("Murder") [audio clip at that link], music by Bernard Herrmann, features the jarring, discordant, nerve-shattering strings that match the rhythmic slashing of crazy killer Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, in this classic 1960 Hitchcock fright-fest. A truly harrowing, brilliant soundtrack.

February 21, 2005

Song of the Day #180

Song of the Day: The Godfather ("New Godfather") [audio clip at that link], music by the great Italian film composer Nino Rota, signifies the passing of the criminal baton to Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, in the original 1972 Francis Ford Coppola-directed gangster flick (also heard in the 1974 and 1990 sequels). A haunting, forbidding thematic triumph.

February 20, 2005

Song of the Day #179

Song of the Day: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ("Prelude"), film score composed by Bernard Herrmann, is one of the most haunting soundtracks ever written. Herrmann captures the mysterious love portrayed in this romantic 1947 film with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. Listen to an audio clip here.

February 19, 2005

Bugs Bunny Blasphemy!

Here, I have added my voice to Aeon Skoble's L&P "Blasphemers!" thread on Bugs Bunny.

The Fatal Deceit x 2

There are two articles currently circulating on Hayek entitled "The Fatal Deceit": One by Alan Ebenstein at Liberty that questions the authenticity of Hayek's last book (The Fatal Conceit); the other by Lindsay Perigo that questions the authenticity, so-to-speak, of Hayek's work in the battle for a free society.

I add my thoughts to Perigo's thread, starting here (and continuing here, here), here, and here.

Song of the Day #178

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Parade of the Charioteers") [audio clip at that link], music by Miklos Rozsa, trumpets the bold and grand arrival of the charioteers before the Great Chariot Race in this all-time Oscar champ (its 11 Oscar record is tied with "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"). It acts as a fanfare for a scene rated among the "most thrilling" action sequences ever committed to celluloid, according to the American Film Institute.

February 18, 2005

Rand, Rozsa, and Romanticism

After the posting of my article on Miklos Rozsa yesterday, some nice discussion has continued at the Rozsa forum (where I posted on the subject of the current header) and at SOLO HQ. Feel free to continue posting comments at those sites.

And while we're on the subject of music, I'm singing "Happy Birthday to You" to my sweet friend Debbie. Love, peace, and happiness always.

Song of the Day #177

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Love Theme") [audio clip at that link], music by Miklos Rozsa, is sensitively stated by a solo violin with orchestra. It is a central theme from this William Wyler-directed epic, and one of the romantic highlights of the score and the film.

February 17, 2005

Perversion at the NY Times

I comment at L&P on a few surprise links (subsequently deleted) in today's NY Times article by Maureen Dowd: "Perversion at the NY Times."

Update: L&P discussion is posted here, but the thread is "hijacked" here, in an outburst of good wishes for my 45th birthday! Thanks also to Sunni for sweet wishes on her blog (where I leave a message too).

Miklos Rozsa: A Singular Life

SOLO HQ has posted my February-March 2005 Free Radical article, "Miklos Rozsa: A Singular Life." (A PDF is available here.) Discussion is archived here. How appropriately planned, considering today's "Song of the Day"!

Also noted at The Rozsa Forum and L&P. L&P also has a discussion thread here.

Song of the Day #176

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Prelude") [audio clip at that link], music by Miklos Rozsa, announces the main theme from what is probably my favorite film score, composed by one of my favorite composers, for my favorite movie, the 1959 film version of the General Lew Wallace novel, starring Oscar-winner Charlton Heston in the title role. What better way to celebrate my own birthday than with my favorites?

February 16, 2005

Hayek and the Pitfalls of Rationalism

At SOLO HQ, I comment on Hayek's contributions to the critique of rationalism here, in reply to an essay by Edward W. Younkins, "The Road to Objective Economics: Hayek Takes a Wrong Turn."

Readers may comment at the SOLO HQ site.

Update: In addition to the archived discussion noted above, I make a point about Hayek's last book in a thread on "The Fatal Deceit."

Song of the Day #175

Song of the Day: Chinatown ("Love Theme") [aural clip at that link], music by Jerry Goldsmith, is stated simply by a bluesy trumpet soloist, harking back to its 1930s' setting, accompanied by a full panoply of modern harmonies. Evoking solitude, this composition was written for the 1974 Roman Polanski-directed film noir classic, starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Goldsmith's mentor was Miklos Rozsa, who passed onto his pupil a melodic sensitivity that is readily apparent in this work.

February 15, 2005

"Notablog" Statement of Policy

[This statement was updated to reflect the subtle change in the title of this blog and other changes in comments policy.]

In answer to many reader inquiries, I'm posting this update on "Notablog" policy. It supercedes earlier messages on comments and email notification.

Though "Notablog" still functions as a larger index to my work, reader comments are now welcome. [Prior to June 2006, messages open to comments ended with a "Comments welcome" note; it's now superfluous!]

Readers are advised to stay "on message" in any particular discussion thread. Inappropriate or rude comments will be deleted, along with any "spam" messages, and those who post such comments will be prohibited from further posting at Notablog.

"Song of the Day" entries will remain closed to comments. [Effective June 1, 2006: "Song of the Day" listings will be open to comments on an experimental basis. See here.]

As a matter of security against spam, NYU actually recommends that I close the comments sections for older posts. As various threads disappear from the "Recent Comments" highlighted on the main sidebar, their comments sections will be closed.

Those of you who would like to receive "Email Notification" for new "Notablog" posts (other than "Song of the Day" entries, for which readers are rarely notified), please write to me at:

chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu

Some readers have wondered why I continue to call this site "Not a Blog," even though it seems to become more blog-like with each passing week. Well, it's going to stay "Not a Blog"—though from now on it will appear with closed spaces between the words: "Notablog." That phrase can just as easily be viewed as an acronym for "None Of The Above Blog" (as suggested here) or "Nota Blog" (as suggested here), recalling the Latin phrase "Nota Bene," featuring entries on topics of which one might take particular notice.

Also, remember that this blog can be reached easily from the notablog.net address.

And my "Dialectics and Liberty" home site is accessible from the following easy-to-remember addresses:

chrismatthewsciabarra.com
chrissciabarra.com
dialecticsandliberty.com
dialecticallibertarianism.com

And, yes, after joking about it at L&P here, I actually registered homorandian.com, which will bring readers directly to information on my "homonograph," as I like to call it.

Finally, don't forget that the latest "Notablog" posts are available in RDF format at http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog/index.rdf, using a program like SharpReader (http://www.sharpreader.net/).

Okay...

Comments Welcome.

Dave Weller on Rush

Dave Weller, who maintains a site of Rush Collector Resources, has written an essay entitled "A Farewell to Kings" that takes account of the scholarship on Rush and Ayn Rand published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. It's an interesting essay.

I have published two JARS pieces (referenced by Weller) on Rand and Rush:

Rand, Rush, and Rock

Rand, Rock, and Radicalism

This entry is also linked at the blog of Sunni and the Conspirators.

SOLO Tidbits

I dropped a few comments at SOLO HQ: Here in reply to Alec Mouhibian's "Who's Afraid of Ayn Rand?"; here and here concerning the soundtrack to the film "Titanic"; and here in reply to Lindsay Perigo's SOLO "Writers' Report Cards!"

Song of the Day #174

Song of the Day: The Ten Commandments ("The Exodus") [audio clip at that link], music by Elmer Bernstein, is from the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic film, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. Bernstein announces the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt with a sound like that of the ram's horn, and takes us on the adventure of liberation in a musical moment that DeMille hoped would echo "Onward Christian Soldiers." The score, said DeMille, captures "Wagner's concept that action, setting, language and music should all blend into one perfect pattern." And an organic whole, it certainly is. Exhilarating.

February 14, 2005

Song of the Day #173

Song of the Day: My Funny Valentine, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, is from the 1937 Broadway musical "Babes in Arms," which featured the choreography of George Ballanchine (it was also part of a vastly altered 1959 stage version). The show, without this song as part of its soundtrack, was completely transformed into a 1939 Busby Berkeley movie musical, starring Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Margaret Hamilton, the villainess, who was also the witch in Garland's 1939 classic, "The Wizard of Oz." Alas, the song has been featured in other films, most notably in "Pal Joey," sung by Kim Novak, and in the homoerotic movie version of Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr. Ripley," where Matt Damon attempts to duplicate the heart-tugging Chet Baker recording. Sample Damon's version here and Baker's version here. The song is also featured on my sister-in-law Joanne Barry's album, "Embraceable You." Ironically, the song is not about "Valentine's Day"; it is about a character in the musical named Valentine. Either way, a Happy Valentine's Day to all. And I'm sending all my love to my friend Mimi, who celebrates her birthday today.

February 13, 2005

Boston Globe on "Ayn Rand's Campus Radicals"

Today, Christopher Shea has written a "Critical Faculties" piece for The Boston Globe focusing on "Ayn Rand's Campus Radicals," offering further evidence of the proliferation of Rand scholarship. He mentions my work and the work of other Rand scholars, as well as the important role of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. He also cites a forthcoming JARS essay by Austrian economist and L&P colleague Peter J. Boettke. (My own site includes a Sciabarra-relevant excerpt from the Shea article here.)

I cite the Shea essay at SOLO HQ, Liberty & Power Group Blog, and the Mises Economics Blog as well.

Song of the Day #172

Song of the Day: The Robe ("Interior Dungeon") [audio clip at that link], music by Alfred Newman, offers several key themes, including a restatement of the heartbreaking "Love Theme" (a classic recording of which can be found on Victor Young's album, "Hollywood Rhapsodies" [Decca DL8060]), from this reverent 1953 biblical epic, starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons, and based on the Lloyd C. Douglas novel. This composition suggests both tragedy and hope.

February 12, 2005

Song of the Day #171

Song of the Day: E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial ("Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye") [audio clip at that link], music by John Williams, exemplifies all the dramatic ups-and-downs of a succession of climactic scenes from this classic Steven Spielberg-directed 1982 film.

February 11, 2005

Thoughts on "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics"

I have joined a discussion at SOLO HQ on a new book by James S. Valliant, entitled The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. Rather than reproduce my comments on "Not a Blog," readers can go to this article, trace the follow-up discussion here (it's long!), and read my own reflections here, here, here, and here. Also check out follow-up discussion here as well.

Readers may post comments on the SOLO HQ thread.

Update (1): This discussion has been noted by Scott McLemee in Inside Higher Ed: "Intellectual Affairs: This, That and the Other Thing."

Update (2): A SOLO HQ discussion of the book continues here.

Song of the Day #170

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("Prelude") [audio clip at that link], music by Miklos Rozsa, is the glorious main theme from the 1961 Nicholas Ray-directed version of "King of Kings," starring Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus. This selection is but one from a soundtrack that plays like an instrumental opera from beginning to end; it is a remarkable musical achievement for an epic re-telling of "the greatest story ever told."

February 10, 2005

Zizek Loves JARS

Some may take this as a sure sign of the decadence of a periodical, but I just wanted to bring this item to the attention of my readers. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is mentioned in an "Intellectual Affairs" essay by Scott McLemee for Inside Higher Ed: "Among the Randroids" (February 10, 2005). McLemee writes of the controversial Continental philosopher Slavoj Zizek (who has been featured in the pages of JARS):

Whole subdivisions of the humanities could run on the energy generated by Zizek's incessant effort to bring Lacanian psychoanalytic categories to bear on the reading of German Idealist philosophy—all in the interest of revitalizing Marxist politics, albeit at a very high level of abstraction. Few Objectivists could read him without trembling in rage.
At a conference about two years ago, Zizek told me that he had no use for most American academic journals. There was only one that he really liked, he said.
Oh really? And what was that?
"It is The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies," he said. "I love it. I read every issue." He may have been joking, yet he also appeared serious. The two do sometimes go together.

You can participate in a dialogue on McLemee's article; scroll down here to "Add a Comment." I've also posted a note about this at L&P, "Inside Higher Ed: Zizek Loves JARS," where you may add a comment as well. (L&P comments are here.)

Song of the Day #169

Song of the Day: Titanic ("Death of Titanic") [audio clip at that link], music by James Horner, is from the 1997 blockbuster, directed by James Cameron. This selection is a superb accompaniment to the final moments of the ship as dramatized in the film. We experience the death of Titanic through music, in real time. An instrumental rendering of the love theme ("My Heart Will Go On") is heard throughout in a symphonic battle with the sounds of impending doom; Horner won't let us forget the romantic bond of the lead characters, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. By the time the ship is standing straight up, the nightmare of an inverted world is portrayed through the clever use of dissonance and atonality. A percussive hum, building momentum, takes us beneath the water. Horner uses strings to echo human voices in choral effect, crying out for life. A shattering musical moment to a shattering, epic scene. (Mentioned at SOLO HQ too.)

February 09, 2005

Liberty and Freedom

In the light of our continuing discussion of various "Isms" (see recent additions to this conversation by Kenneth R. Gregg, "Capitalism, Mutuality, and Sharing" and Sheldon Richman's "I, Liberal"), I just wanted to bring a recent NY Times article to the attention of readers.

Historian David Hackett Fischer, author of Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas, tells us that "Freedom's Not Just Another Word." He speaks of a monument in Baghdad that declares, in essence, that "Freedom is not a gift from people with tanks," but something to come from within. Fischer remarks, however, that "[t]here is no one true definition of liberty and freedom in the world" on which people coming from different traditions or different places can agree. "And, yet," he writes, "there is one great historical process in which liberty and freedom have developed, often in unexpected ways." He continues:

The words themselves have a surprising history. The oldest known word with such a meaning comes to us from ancient Iraq. The Sumerian "ama-ar-gi," found on tablets in the ruins of the city-state of Lagash, which flourished four millenniums ago, derived from the verb "ama-gi," which literally meant "going home to mother." It described the condition of emancipated servants who returned to their own free families—an interesting link to the monument in Baghdad. (In contemporary America, the ancient characters for "ama-ar-gi" have become the logos of some libertarian organizations, as well as tattoos among members of politically conservative motorcycle gangs, who may not know that the inscriptions on their biceps mean heading home to mom.)

Equally surprising are the origins of our English words liberty and, especially, freedom. They have very different roots. The Latin libertas and Greek eleutheria both indicated a condition of independence, unlike a slave. (In science, eleutherodactylic means separate fingers or toes.) Freedom, however, comes from the same root as friend, an Indo-European word that meant "dear" or "beloved." It meant a connection to other free people by bonds of kinship or affection, also unlike a slave. Liberty and freedom both meant "unlike a slave." But liberty meant privileges of independence; freedom referred to rights of belonging.

It's of interest that Fischer points to an ever-evolving proliferation of meanings for both words, however (and some of this is reflected in the ever-evolving meaning of the word "liberal," for example). "Through 16 generations, American ideas of liberty and freedom have grown larger, deeper, more diverse and yet more inclusive in these collisions of contested visions," Fischer observes. For Fischer, the "rights of individual independence" and the "rights of collective belonging" are essential parts of the same fabric.

Fischer might find some agreement on this point with thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment who emphasized both liberty and the connections among social actors who constitute a civil society. But even neo-Aristotelian defenders of genuine liberalism would agree. For example, philosophers Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, in their book, Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order, defend the view that there is a link between free commerce and friendship, especially so-called "civic friendships" and "advantage-friendships." Their view of human freedom entails a "thick" theory of the person, fully in keeping with the rational and social character of human beings as projected by Aristotle. So, in a sense, both "liberty" and "freedom" as Hackett describes them, are entailed in any robust defense of liberal order.

Just some more grist for the mill in our definitional explorations of meaning.

Cross-posted to L&P, where readers may leave comments. Discussion is posted here, here, here, and here.

HomoRandian.com?

There has been a lot of discussion at L&P about a wide variety of subjects, and keeping up with it all is virtually impossible. I did note however that Bill Marina made the following comment in his Liberty and Power Group blog post, "Reflections on Homosexual Behaviors":

Wow, certainly a lot of blogging of late here at the old Liberty and Power Blog, mainly about Ayn Rand and then homosexuality ... If Blogs had meta tags like web sites, and if the name of the Blog was determined by the content, our ISP might suggest ours be called something like the "HomoRandian" Blog. Or, did La Rand make the ultimate pronunciamiento on that as well?

Well, Bill, I'm absolutely certain that there are a few HomoRandians on board here, but let's not forget that the Ol' Girl just celebrated her Centenary, and even the non-HomoRandians and the non-Randians here and everywhere—from the NY Times to the Chicago Tribune to the Philadelphia Inquirer—have focused on this once-in-a-hundred years marker. So cut us a little slack.

But since you've asked, as a matter of fact, La Rand did make the ultimate pronunciamiento on homosexuality; she thought it was "immoral" and "disgusting," and it prompted Moi to write a monograph about it: Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation. Why, that might make a fine founding document for HomoRandian.com! I better go reserve that domain name right now... just so I can redirect the URL to libertyandpower.org...

Cross-posted at L&P, where readers may leave comments. Follow-up discussions can be found here and here

Song of the Day #168

Song of the Day: North by Northwest ("Main Titles" or "Overture" on some recordings) [audio clip at that link], composed by Bernard Herrmann, has that ominous quality, foreshadowing the twists and turns, the "wild ride" that constitutes what is probably my favorite Hitchcock film of all time. The 1959 film starred Cary Grant, James Mason, and Eva Marie Saint.

February 08, 2005

Song of the Day #167

Song of the Day: Lawrence of Arabia ("Main Title") [audio clip at that link], music by Maurice Jarre, frames the 1962 David Lean-directed epic, starring Peter O'Toole in the title role. Listen to an alternative audio clip of this sweeping, dramatic composition here.

February 07, 2005

New Rand Centenary Tributes

There are a few new items on the Ayn Rand Centenary with a "Sciabarra angle." First, my review of the Max Steiner film score to the 1949 movie version of "The Fountainhead" has been published online. It appeared in the December 2004 issue of Navigator, a publication of The Objectivist Center, and can be read here. (I also note the review at SOLO HQ, which includes follow-up discussion here. See also the Ayn Rand Meta-Blog).

Second, my reflections on the Rand Centenary were also published in the December 2004 Navigator, as part of a forum called "Honoring Ayn Rand." I discuss "Ayn Rand's Radical Methodology"; this can be found by scrolling down here.

Third, my work has been cited in articles by Carlin Romano (in the Philadelphia Inquirer) and Cathy Young (in Reason magazine). Additionally, writer Scott McLemee mentioned my work in an NPR interview dealing with the "Life and Legacy of Ayn Rand." See here (and follow the links to an archived audio of the show).

Ayn Rand and Austrian Economics

I left a comment today at the Mises Economics Blog, in response to Stefan Karlsson's post, "Randians Go From Mises to Supply-Side Economics." In it, I refer to a forthcoming symposium in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, highlighting the relationship between Ayn Rand and Austrian economics. Larry J. Sechrest and I have written an introduction to this symposium (part two of our Centenary tribute), which examines the "anti-Austrian turn" among some Randian writers.

Song of the Day #166

Song of the Day: Far From Heaven ("Autumn in Connecticut") [audio clip at that link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, opens the Todd Haynes-directed 2002 film, which serves as a lush, Technicolor paean to the work of Douglas Sirk. This Oscar-nominated retro score amplifies the sensitivity of the film, which starred Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid.

February 06, 2005

Song of the Day #165

Song of the Day: Goldfinger ("Main Title"), music by John Barry, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, performance by Shirley Bassey, from my favorite 007 flick. The score from this 1964 James Bond film is classic Barry: jazzy, sexy, cool, hip. Listen to a Bassey audio clip here, and a recent recording of the song by Chaka Khan here. And a "shout out" to my friend Barry: Happy Birthday to a great 007 fan!

February 05, 2005

"Capitalism" Discussion at L&P

My post yesterday inspired lots of discussion at L&P. See here, here, here, here, and here.

Steven Horwitz posts a full response at L&P as well, "Thoughts on Sciabarra," which has inspired some responses too: here and here. Also see Roderick Long's post on "The Virtue of 'Selfishness'."

Finally, don't forget my newest post, "'Capitalism' and Other Isms," and the discussions that it has inspired here, here, and here.

"Capitalism" and Other Isms

I'm delighted to see so much discussion over the issues raised in my last post, "'Capitalism': The Known Reality." I'd like to advance the discussion a bit, and to respond to some of the discussants as well.

First, let me say that this issue of how to define "capitalism" is not an issue that is distinctive to "capitalism." In the wake of the Iraq war, I'm starting to feel as if the entire libertarian movement, broadly conceived, is in a theoretical convulsion over the very meaning of the term "libertarianism." One critic, R. J. Rummel, has gone so far as to draw a distinction between the "libertarian" and the "freedomist," a neologism if ever there were one, which is roughly his way of distinguishing between "isolationist" and "internationalist" stances. It's getting so bad that unless we start using modifying adjectives to describe our various positions, we'll end up getting lumped together with viewpoints that are anathema to our perspective.

In recent intellectual history, this was first manifested, perhaps, in the battle over the word "liberalism," which seems to have been forever lost to those who advocate "welfare-state" liberalism. It is no longer identified in the United States as synonymous with the "classical liberal" conception. Try using "neoliberalism" and a whole host of other problems result, especially since some in Europe have used that term to describe a position in which the state helps to "preserve" competition.

A similar intellectual battle is taking place in various circles over the heart and soul of "anarchism" (as some of our discussants have pointed out in recent threads) and over Rand's "Objectivism" (as I've pointed out in the concluding passages of my essay, "In Praise of Hijacking"). In this regard, I was struck by something Roderick Long said here:

Rand embraced terms like "capitalism" and "selfishness" as a kind of the-hell-with-it defiance. I'm not inclined to embrace those terms, but I confess my liking for "anarchism" expresses a similar mood.

But Rand's battle over use of the word "selfishness" is worth considering. Most dictionaries defined this term as "concern only with one's own interests," usually with the connotation "at the expense of others." Even Rand felt the need to use a modifying adjective—"rational"—to describe her ethical position: "rational selfishness." But in many ways, she was engaging in a deconstruction of conventional meanings—a transvaluation of values, if you will—which overturned traditional conceptions, replacing them with reconstructions or what Grant Gould calls "revisionis[m]" of her own. In some respects, this is entirely understandable, however. Gould is right to say here that "[u]nless we want to populate the whole three-dimensional space with technical terms that nobody will understand or remember (and I'll admit, it's tempting) we need to defer to the wider understanding of terms." Or else a parade of neologisms will follow, and we'll be consigned to a Tower of Sociological Babel.

I have argued that Rand was engaged in a grand, dialectical revolt against the kind of ethical dualism that reduced all of morality to a bout between competing sacrificial creeds: those who would sacrifice others to themselves and those who would sacrifice themselves to others. Arguing for a reverent concept of benevolent, rational "selfishness" that extolled neither masters nor slaves required the use of an established term as a means to transcend its conventional limitations. This is not an unusual problem for more dialectically inclined thinkers who often use terms that have conventional meanings, terms that have "been tainted by a vastly different, one-dimensional philosophical context," as I write in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical:

To avoid such terms entirely, Rand would have been compelled to invent wholly new terms at the risk of becoming incomprehensible. By using known terms, she might appear to have actually endorsed one pole of a duality. Thus, in the conflict between egoism and altruism, for example, she is an egoist. In the conflict between capitalism and socialism, she is a capitalist. But such a one-sided characterization profoundly distorts Rand's philosophical project. She is not a conventional egoist. Her ethics constitutes a rejection of traditional egoism and traditional altruism alike. Likewise, Rand is not a conventional capitalist. ...

Since this is relevant to the larger issue—the meaning of "capitalism" and "libertarianism" and so forth—I'd like to quote at length from my discussion in the Rand book:

Rand's defense of capitalism is similar in form to her defense of "selfishness." In fact, Rand titled her collection of essays in social theory, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, for much the same reasons that she entitled her collection of essays on morality, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism. Both "capitalism" and "selfishness" have had such a negative conceptual history that Rand needed to reclaim these concepts and to recast them in a new and nondualistic framework. [Nathaniel] Branden remarks that he had told Rand of his preference for the word "libertarianism" as an alternative to "capitalism," since the latter term had been coined by anticapitalists. For Branden, "libertarianism" signified a broader, philosophical characterization which addressed the issues of social, political and economic freedom. But Rand refused to renounce the concept of "capitalism," just as she rejected any attempt to couch her ethos of rational selfishness in more neutral terms.

Unfortunately, however, by using words like "selfishness" for something positive, and "altruism" for something negative, the Randian still faces enormous rhetorical obstacles.

Interestingly, though Rand's approach to capitalism is not Weberian—there is no connection made between capitalism and the Protestant work ethic, for example—her definition of capitalism is pretty much an "ideal type."

Following her literary methods, Rand seems to have extracted and emphasized those principles which, she believed, distinguish capitalist society from all previous social formations. She began with the real concrete circumstances of the historically mixed system, breaking down its complexity into mental units. She constituted her vision of capitalism on the basis of such abstraction, having isolated and identified those precepts which are essential to its systemic nature. In this regard, she eliminated the accidental and the contingent in order to focus instead on the philosophical ideals of the capitalist revolution. Such a revolution was incomplete because its principles had never been fully articulated and implemented. Rand views her own project as the first successful attempt to articulate the moral nature of the capitalist system, ideally understood, thus making possible its historical fulfillment.

Let's recall what an "ideal type" is. As our L&P colleague Pete Boettke puts it in his explanation of "equilibrium" in economics as an "ideal type":

An ideal type is neither intended to describe reality nor to indict it. It is instead a theoretical construct intended to illuminate certain things that might occur in reality; empirical investigation determines whether these phenomena are actually present and how they came to be there. In this view, disequilibrium is not necessarily a market failure; something less than perfection may yet be better than any attainable alternative. Deployed as an ideal type, equilibrium analysis allowed economists to describe what the world would be like in the absence of imperfections such as uncertainty and change. The descriptive value of the model lay precisely in its departure from observed reality, for this underscored the function of real-world institutions in dealing with imperfect knowledge, uncertainty, and so forth.

And so, Rand, and other thinkers, such as Murray Rothbard, have engaged in a similar defense of "capitalism" as a moral ideal, which is, in fact, an "ideal type," a "one-sided accentuation," as Max Weber put it, of specific aspects or vantage points. The ideal type is conceptually pure, and speaks to the essence of the phenomena at hand, even though it "cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality. It is a utopia.”

But is it utopian? That's a question for another day.

The reason I've raised the issue of the effectiveness of using "capitalism" as a word to describe the ideal libertarian social system, however, is that the conceived ideal departs significantly from the Western reality that is often described with the same word. (I like Lisa Casanova's "corporatism," but alas, even that has problems. See here, for example.) So when left-wing critics rightfully argue that laissez-faire has never existed in its purest form and that state intervention has typically marked the historical expression of "capitalism," it becomes almost an impenetrable communicative exercise with those critics, since they see state intervention as part of the essence of "capitalism."

Steve Horwitz has argued, as have others at L&P, that these rhetorical issues extend to "anarchism" as well. He prefers to call himself a "radical libertarian" (the way I've called myself a "dialectical libertarian"). But given the recent conflicts over the meaning of the term "libertarianism," I think we'll find ourselves involved in an infinite regress of "Ism Debates." Because now, instead of arguing over the corruption of the word "capitalism" (or was it always corrupt?) or the corruption of the word "liberalism," we have to face the conflicts between those who are paleolibertarians and those who are "liberventionists" and so forth, each of whom claims that the other is corrupting the -ism. The same battle takes place within conservatism, among paleoconservatives and neoconservatives and God-knows-what-else. And we've even seen here at L&P, similar battles over the meaning of the term "feminism."

In the end, I do agree with Steve that we all need to focus on "real world systems." Because, whatever we wish to call our ideal, the potential for creating that ideal—or for creating the conditions within which it might emerge—grows out of that which exists, that which is. Different contexts of meaning are part of "that which is." Since meaning is embedded in context, and different people operating in different traditions attach different meanings to their terms, the advocates of freedom have lots of work to do.

The best we can do is to define our terms as clearly as possible and to show sensitivity to the translation problem when engaging those who operate with a different model. The worst we can do is to allow others to pin on us meanings and ideals to which we don't subscribe, making us into apologists for "that which is," rather than visionaries for that which might be.

Cross-posted to L&P here, where readers can leave comments. See follow-up discussions here, here, and here.

Song of the Day #164

Song of the Day: Vertigo ("Scene d'Amour") [audio clip at that link], composed by Bernard Herrmann, is a hypnotic theme, from the classic 1958 Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring James Stewart and Kim Novak.

February 04, 2005

"Capitalism": The Known Reality

Reaching out to the Left has been the source of much good discussion at the Liberty and Power Group Blog. So I'd like to pick up on that thread, yet again.

After reading this comment by Jake Smith in response to my "Market Shall Set You Free" post, I took a stroll over to Kevin Carson's Mutualist Blog, which he subtitles "Free Market Anti-Capitalism." It's a provocative subtitle, actually. I've been having an ongoing discussion with a friend of mine for months about the nature of capitalism, so any subtitle that calls for "Free Market Anti-Capitalism" is intriguing on the face of it. (Kevin also has a very interesting book out, entitled Studies in Mutualist Political Economy.) He writes:

If the market and the state have coexisted historically, they can be separated logically. The question of whether class differences originally arose from successful competition in the market, and the state was then called in to reinforce the position of the winners; or whether the class differences first arose from state interference, is a vital one. The fact that the state has been intertwined with every "actually existing" market in history is beside the point; social anarchists themselves face a similar challenge—that the state has been intertwined with every society in history. The response, in both cases, is essentially the same—the seeds of a non-exploitative order exist within every system of exploitation. Our goal, not only as anarchists but as free market anarchists, is to supplant the state with voluntary relations. If the absence of something in historical times, in a society based on division of labor, is a damning challenge—well then, they're damned as well as we are.

The questions of whether state capitalism is an inevitable outgrowth of the free market, of whether decentralized and libertarian forms of industrial production can exist under worker control in a market society, etc., are at least questions on which we can approach the Left with logic and evidence. They are, for the most part, rational and open to persuasion. At the very least, there is room for constructive engagement. And remember, it is not an all-or-nothing matter. It is possible, if nothing else, to reduce the area of disagreement on a case-by-case basis.

Well, questions concerning "free-market anarchism" aside, I agree that the market and the state can be separated logically, and I also agree that the class question is a vital one. And I'm the first to advocate constructive engagement with all parties. But as I suggested here, there is a problem that must be confronted when dealing with "capitalism." Let me explain further.

So much has been said about Ayn Rand's defense of "capitalism: the unknown ideal" that we often forget that the very term "capitalism" was coined by the Left. As F. A. Hayek puts it in the book, Capitalism and the Historians:

In many ways it is misleading to speak of "capitalism" as though this had been a new and altogether different system which suddenly came into being toward the end of the eighteenth century; we use this term here because it is the most familiar name, but only with great reluctance, since with its modern connotations it is itself largely a creation of that socialist interpretation of economic history with which we are concerned.

Hayek found the term even more misleading because it is almost always "connected with the idea of the rise of the propertyless proletariat, which by some devious process have been deprived of their rightful ownership of the tools for their work."

And yet, Rand proudly took up the mantle of "capitalism," defining it as the only moral social system consonant with human nature and "based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned." For Rand, this "unknown ideal" had been approximated in history but it had never been practiced in its full, unadulterated laissez-faire form. It was largely undercut by state intervention.

But we have to ask here: Did Rand—and do free-market advocates in general—redefine "capitalism" in such a way as to make it a neologism? (I address the issue of whether Rand engages in such neologistic redefinition with terms such as "selfishness," "altruism," and even "government" in my books, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.) If real, actual, historically specific "capitalism" has always entailed the intervention of the state, are leftists onto something when they "package deal" state involvement in markets as endemic to capitalism? Of what use is it to keep claiming that libertarians are champions of "capitalism" when that system as it exists is a warped, distorted version of the ideal so many of us hold dear? (I'm leaving aside questions concerning the possibilities for the emergence of a genuinely libertarian social system.)

Now, it may be true, as Ludwig von Mises has argued, that there is a bit of "envy" at the base of the "anti-capitalistic mentality." And it may be true that some socialists would oppose market relationships regardless of the presence of the state because they oppose the very notion of individual enterprise and private appropriation. But the fact remains: Laissez-faire capitalism has never existed in its purest form. Libertarian free-market advocates know this. But even Marx knew it. He argued that existing systems were only approximations to that pure form, "adulterated and amalgamated with survivals of former economic conditions," the kind of mercantilist and neomercantilist state involvement whose "antiquated modes of production" had inhibited the progressive character of markets. (It's this aspect of Marx's work that has been captured in Meghnad Desai's book Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism.)

This problem of definition is not simply an epistemic one or even a semantic one. It has practical implications. When neoconservative advocates of U.S. intervention in the Middle East talk about "nation-building," about building "free markets" and "capitalist" social conditions abroad as part of the march toward "democracy," those who live in that region of the world do not understand "capitalism" as anything remotely like the libertarian ideal. (Indeed, neocons don't understand it either!) U.S. capitalism as such is equated with "crony capitalism" or with what Rand called the "New Fascism": the intimate involvement of the U.S. government in the protection of business interests at home and abroad through politico-economic and military intervention. It's not simply that the left has "package-dealt" us this bill of goods; it is what exists and it is what has existed, in an ever-increasingly intense form, from the very inception of modern "capitalism."

Indeed, one of the most insidious forms of state intervention has been in the area of money, banking, and finance. And if Austrian economists are correct that the boom-bust cycle itself is rooted in the state-banking nexus, then that nexus and its destabilizing effects have been around in various incarnations ever since "capitalism" was given its name. And this is certainly something that even Marx understood. As I put it in my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia,

Marx shares with his Austrian rivals an understanding of the political character of the business cycle. Yet the implications of his analysis are vastly different. While [the Austrians] argue for the abolition of central banking, and the separation of the political sphere from money and credit, Marx advocates using the credit system as a mechanism for socialist transformation.

Marx believes that capitalism, based on the dualism between purchase and sale, makes an exchange economy necessary. The exchange process makes possible the emergence of pseudotransactions through an inflationary credit system. Like [the Austrians], Marx views the state as the source of inflation. The state's central bank is the "pivot" of the credit system. Its artificially-induced monetary expansion engenders an illusory accumulation process in which "fictitious money-capital" distorts the structure of prices. This leads to overproduction and overspeculation. Real prices—those that reflect actual supply and demand—appear nowhere, until the crisis begins the necessary corrective measures.

Marx views the business cycle as an extension of intensifying class struggle. The state's ability to thrust an arbitrary amount of unbacked paper money into circulation creates an inflationary dynamic that favors debtors at the expense of creditors. The credit system becomes an instrument for the "ever-growing control of industrialists and merchants over the money savings of all classes of society." It provides "swindlers" with the ability to buy up depreciated commodities. Yet the credit system is a historically progressive institution, according to Marx. Despite its distortive effects, it accelerates the expansion of the global market and polarizes classes in capitalist society. It facilitates socialized control of production and capital investment.

One would find a very similar, though more detailed, analysis in the works of Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard, with different implications, as I've stated above.

Some of this discussion can be viewed as a complement to Arthur Silber's discussion here, and Gus diZerega's comments here. If libertarians continue to use the word "capitalism" as some kind of ahistorical ideal, if they refuse to look at the fuller cultural and historical context within which actual market relations function, they will forever be dismissed by the Left as rationalist apologists for a state-capitalist reality. That's ironic, considering that so many Leftists have been constructivist rationalist apologists for a different kind of statist reality. But it does not obscure a very real problem.

Reaching out to the Left or to any other category of intellectuals requires a translation exercise of sorts. Real communication depends upon a full clarification of terms; if we end up using the same term to mean different things, I fear we'll be talking over each other's heads for a long time to come.

Cross-posted to L&P, where readers may post comments. See follow-up discussion here, here, here, here, here, and here.

A New Direction with an Old Look

Well. That was fast.

A market entrepreneur at heart, I responded to the concerns of a few readers who had some difficulty reading the old format of "Not a Blog." And I do appreciate that some of those concerns were voiced again in the comments to this post.

But I'm going to go with my gut instincts. Yin and Yang just traded places again, and I'm staying with the original. "Bland," "sterile," "impersonal," and a few other comments offlist from readers who much prefer the original (as I do) have convinced me to return to normal. The original style may have some problems, but its color scheme is a bit more "in sync" with the rest of the "Dialectics and Liberty" website.

Experiments come and go. But everything I said about a new direction remains. The packaging is less significant than the message.

On another subject: I say: Happy birthday, Roderick Long!

Song of the Day #163

Song of the Day: El Cid ("Prelude") [audio clip at that link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is a stirring theme from this heroic soundtrack from the 1961 film starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren.

February 03, 2005

A New Look

I'm honestly not sure I like it... but a few people have remarked that the old "Stormy" stylesheet for "Not a Blog" has been a little hard on the eyes... white writing on dark background. I've been doing white-on-dark for the "Not a Blog" archives since they began.

But I'm open to change.

I've now done an inversion. How utterly dialectical! Everything that was dark is now light, and vice versa, and yin and yang, and so forth. It may change again... but this "Georgia Blue" stylesheet should be easier on the eyes.

Over time, I may be spending a bit more time on my own site. I'll be doing cross-posting, for sure. Indeed, I find myself among fellow travelers on a variety of sites, and I agree with some people on many significant issues. But it seems to me that there are no group sites that fully represent my dialectical-libertarian perspective. It's a perspective that has evolved over nearly two decades of work. So, a dose of cyber-individualism seems to be in order.

I don't know what this will mean in the long run, in terms of blogging activity, as I have quite a few projects on which I am currently working. But I do know this: There's no place like your own home. And this is my cyber-home, after all. It has emerged from a website that has been around for over ten years.

I am still resistant to opening up this home to "Comments." That may change if I find myself blogging here more regularly. For now, given my posting at other sites that are open to comments, I'm not wanting to field comments on simultaneous sites. There are only so many hours in a day. But if conditions change, and "Not a Blog" becomes ever-more blog-like... my attitude toward comments on this site might very well change. Indeed, since this post is not cross-posted anywhere, I'll open it to comments. Your feedback is welcome.

The New Look may, in fact, be a sign of a New Direction.

Song of the Day #162

Song of the Day: Bram Stoker's Dracula ("Love Remembered"), composed by Wojciech Kilar, is a moving, haunting, if slightly eerie, theme from this Francis Ford Coppola 1992 film masterpiece, with Gary Oldman as the Count, Winona Ryder as Mina, and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Van Helsing. Listen to an audio clip here.

February 02, 2005

Technical Difficulties at L&P

There have been some technical difficulties at the Liberty and Power Group Blog for the last two days. As I remark here, it's starting to feel like that movie "Groundhog Day."

Anyway, I will cross-post "Reflecting on the Ayn Rand Centenary, Conclusion" when L&P is back up and running.

Happy Groundhog Day! (Apparently, "Punxsutawney Phil" saw his shadow... which means 6 more weeks of winter!)

Update: L&P is back up and running ... for now ...

Index to Essays on the Ayn Rand Centenary

Over the last few days, several of my essays have been published on the occasion of the Ayn Rand Centenary. Here's a convenient index:

Reflecting on the Ayn Rand Centenary, Part I (L&P)

Reflecting on the Ayn Rand Centenary, Part II (L&P)

Reflecting on the Ayn Rand Centenary, Conclusion (Not a Blog, cross-posted to L&P here)

Ayn Rand: A Centennial Appreciation (The Freeman, PDF version; also noted here by Sheldon Richman)

The Illustrated Rand (The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, PDF version; a promotional Free Radical piece on the JARS Centenary issues is available here)

Also, check out my Song of the Day for 2 February 2005, from the soundtrack to "The Fountainhead" (part of my "Film Music February" tribute).

This index has been noted at SOLO HQ, L&P here and here (see also here, here, and here), the Mises Economics Blog (in response to Roderick Long's essay, "Ayn Rand's Contribution to the Cause of Freedom"), Up With Beauty!, and Ayn Rand Meta-Blog

Reflecting on the Ayn Rand Centenary, Conclusion

In Part I of my reflections on the Rand Centenary, I discussed the growth of a veritable industry of Rand scholarship. In Part II of this series, I examined a particularly interesting example of "unintended consequences" in the intellectual history of our time: How Rand's ideas have influenced even those in the "counterculture" whom she would have disowned.

Popular Culture

Today, I'd like to expand on the previous parts by offering additional evidence of Rand's growing impact. The material here is excerpted from an introduction that I wrote to the Fall 2004 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Rand's literary and cultural impact. The essay, "The Illustrated Rand," makes its electronic debut today as a PDF here. As I write:

In addition to the encouraging growth of Rand references in scholarly circles, there has been a remarkable growth in such references throughout popular culture. That development is not measured solely by her influence on authors in various genres—from bodybuilder Mike Mentzer to fiction writers Edward Cline, Neil De Rosa, Beth Elliott, James P. Hogan, Erika Holzer, Helen Knode, Victor Koman, Ira Levin, Karen Michalson, Shelly Reuben, Kay Nolte Smith, L. Neil Smith, Alexandra York, and so many others. It is measured also by the number of Rand-like characters or outright references to Rand that have appeared in fictional works of various lengths and quality. Among these are works by: Gene Bell-Villada (The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand); William Buckley (Getting It Right); Don De Grazia (American Skin); Jeffrey Eugenides (author of the 2003 Pulitzer-Prize-winning Middlesex); Mary Gaitskill (Two Girls, Fat and Thin); John Gardner (Mickelsson’s Ghosts); Laci Golos (Sacred Cows Are Black and White); Sky Gilbert (The Emotionalists); Rebecca Gilman (Spinning into Butter); Terry Goodkind (books in the Sword of Truth series, such as Faith of the Fallen and Naked Empire); David Gulbraa (Tales of the Mall Masters; An Elevator to the Future: A Fable of Reason Underground); Robert A. Heinlein (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress); Orlando Outland (Death Wore a Fabulous New Fragrance); Robert Rodi (Fag Hag); Matt Ruff (Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy); J. Neil Schulman (The Rainbow Cadenza; Escape from Heaven); Victor Sperandeo (Cra$hmaker: A Federal Affaire); Tobias Wolff (Old School); and, finally, Tony Kushner, whose play Angels in America, adapted for HBO, includes a discussion of the “visible scars” from rough sex, “like a sex scene in an Ayn Rand novel.”
The Kushner drama is not the first time that Rand’s name has been heard on television, however. Rand has made her way into countless television programs. From questions on game shows, such as “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” to the canceled Fox series “Undeclared,” and such other series as “Columbo” (a 1994 episode with William Shatner, “Butterfly in Shades of Grey”), “Home Improvement,” “The Gilmore Girls” (two episodes: “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?”), “Frasier,” and “Judging Amy,” the Rand references are plentiful. In Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi series “Andromeda,” there is a colony called the “Ayn Rand Station,” founded by a species of “Nietzscheans.” In Showtime’s “Queer as Folk,” a leading character, free-spirit Brian Kinney, is described as “the love-child of James Dean and Ayn Rand.” [Rand has made a measurable impact on "Queer Culture," as I argue in my monograph, Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation—ed.] And the WB’s “One Tree Hill” showcased Rand’s work in an episode entitled, “Are You True?” The main character, Lucas, is given Atlas Shrugged by a fellow classmate. Increasingly frustrated by his basketball troubles, Lucas is told “Don’t let ’em take it: Your talent. It’s all yours.” By the end of the episode, we hear Lucas’s voice-over as he walks to the basketball court: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark.” Reading from the John Galt speech, he tells us: “Do not let the hero in your soul perish.”

In the light of the animated motion picture, "The Incredibles," I've discussed here as well Rand's presence in illustrated media: from cartoons to comics. "The Illustrated Rand" examines this impact in much greater detail, paying specific attention to Rand's influence on such comic artists as Steve Ditko and Frank Miller:

No comic artist has been better known for incorporating Randian themes in his work than Steve Ditko, co-creator, with Stan Lee, of “Spider-Man.” Among Ditko’s comic book heroes, one will find Static, The Creeper, The Blue Beetle, and Mr. A (as in “A is A”), as well as the faceless crime fighter known as The Question, whom Lawrence has characterized as the quintessential Ditko character reflecting “the artist’s Objectivist beliefs.”
Ditko emerged from—and shaped—the “Silver Age” of late ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s comic book art. His work is in keeping with that era’s use of the comic genre as a “vehicle for consciousness-raising every bit as much as popular films and television shows” [as Aeon Skoble puts it].

Thus, "Ditko’s appearance, like Rand’s, was of a unique historical moment." He expressed in his comics a willingness "to go to the root of social problems. In attacking government corruption, he focused on its roots in philosophic pragmatism. In attacking war, he focused on the illegitimacy of initiating the use of force." And in doing so, "Ditko’s prose is indisputably Randian ..." I provide concrete examples in the essay.

I then turn briefly to the contributions of Frank Miller, who "credits Rand’s Romantic Manifesto as having helped him to define the nature of the literary hero and the legitimacy of heroic fiction." Miller states in his introduction to Martha Washington Goes to War:

We all borrow from the classics from time to time, and my story for this chapter in the life of Martha Washington is no exception. Faced with the questions of how to present Martha’s rite of passage and how to describe the fundamental changes in Martha’s world, I was drawn again and again to the ideas presented by Ayn Rand in her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. Eschewing the easy and much-used totalitarian menace made popular by George Orwell, Rand focused instead on issues of competence and incompetence, courage and cowardice, and took the fate of humanity out of the hands of a convenient “Big Brother” and placed it in the hands of individuals with individual strengths and individual choices made for good or evil. I gratefully and humbly acknowledge the creative debt.

It is a "creative debt,” as I say in the article, that "is widely owed by many scholars, writers, and artists."

Concluding Thoughts

Today, on the occasion of the Rand Centenary, when every publication from Reason to the NY Times has something to say about Ayn Rand, I'd like to offer a few concluding thoughts.

As one who focuses on social theory and the prospects for social change, I believe that the most important of Rand's contributions has been her methodological radicalism: her emphasis not only on going to the root—on understanding fundamentals—but also on tracing the fundamental relationships at work within the full context of any given society. As I write in a newly published essay, "Ayn Rand: A Centennial Appreciation," which appears today in The Freeman (it's actually derived from a much more comprehensive essay that will appear in a forthcoming anthology, Atlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand's Philosophical and Literary Masterpiece, edited by Edward W. Younkins):

Rand’s radical legacy, as presented in Atlas Shrugged, led her, in later years, to question the fundamentals at work in virtually every social problem she analyzed. She viewed each problem through multidimensional lenses, rejecting all one-sided resolutions as partial and incomplete. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Rand’s birth, it is important to remember that her conception of human freedom depended upon a grand vision of the psychological, moral, and cultural factors necessary to its achievement. Hers was a comprehensive revolution that encompassed all levels of social relations: “Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.”

To say that this has been Rand's most important contribution, from the perspective of social theory, is not to minimize her other contributions. Among these is Rand's ability to convey radical ideas through a literary medium. Through the years, there have been many passages in Rand's writings that have inspired me. Even in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, I am still moved by her eerily prophetic words in The Fountainhead. She, who worshiped the skyscrapers of Manhattan as "the will of man made visible," wrote:

Is it beauty and genius people want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window ... I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.

But till this day, there is one passage I always return to—also from The Fountainhead—one passage that summarizes for me the human authenticity and human benevolence that stand at the roots of Rand's vision. It is a vision of integrity, a vision of independence, a vision of social conditions without masters or slaves, fully transformative in its implications.

Howard Roark is on trial for having blown up a public housing project he created because the project's architectural design had been distorted beyond all recognition. As he stands before a jury of his peers, he prepares to defend himself. I'll give Ayn Rand the last word:

He stood by the steps of the witness stand. The audience looked at him. They felt he had no chance. They could drop the nameless resentment, the sense of insecurity which he aroused in most people. And so, for the first time, they could see him as he was: a man totally innocent of fear. The fear of which they thought was not the normal kind, not a response to a tangible danger, but the chronic, unconfessed fear in which they all lived. They remembered the misery of the moments when, in loneliness, a man thinks of the bright words he could have said, but had not found, and hates those who robbed him of his courage. The misery of knowing how strong and able one is in one's own mind, the radiant picture never to be made real. Dreams? Self-delusion? Or a murdered reality, unborn, killed by that corroding emotion without name —fear—need—dependence—hatred? Roark stood before them as each man stands in the innocence of his own mind. But Roark stood like that before a hostile crowd—and they knew suddenly that no hatred was possible to him. For the flash of an instant, they grasped the manner of his consciousness. Each asked himself: do I need anyone's approval? —does it matter? —am I tied? And for that instant, each man was free—free enough to feel benevolence for every other man in the room.

Cross-posted to Liberty & Power Group Blog here. See follow-up discussion here.

Song of the Day #161

Song of the Day: The Fountainhead ("The Quarry"), composed by Max Steiner, is a highlight from this film score to the 1949 movie version of Ayn Rand's famous novel. Glenn Alexander Magee wrote the liner notes to this newly released soundtrack album. Magee quotes Christopher Palmer, who writes that this selection restates the memorable main theme of the score "on high violins, flute and vibraphone, with little harmonic or textural support other than the naturally reverberative properties of vibraphone, soft bass-drumroll and tam-tam. Their overtones, mingling and lingering in the atmosphere, complement director King Vidor's insistence upon the heat-haze and white chalk dust which permeate the scene" in which Dominique Francon (played by Patricia Neal) and Howard Roark (played by Gary Cooper) gaze upon one another from the quarry where Roark works. Smoldering, indeed. And what better way to celebrate the Ayn Rand Centenary, which is today! (See my review of the film score here.)

February 01, 2005

Song of the Day #160

Song of the Day: Spartacus ("Love Theme"), composed by Alex North, kicks off what I call "Film Music February," in honor of the upcoming Academy Awards. This haunting theme was featured in the 1960 sword-and-sandals epic film. Listen to audio clips: here, from the soundtrack; here, performed sensitively by jazz pianist Bill Evans; here, performed by French classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (in a tribute album, "Conversations with Bill Evans"); and here, where you can download the full track of a version by jazz violinist Joe Venuti.